LINCOLN, Neb. – Brad Davison stood outside the visiting locker room at Pinnacle Bank Arena and gave a quick synopsis of how a bizarre 40 minutes played out for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team Tuesday night.
“We started really well, we ended really well,” the sophomore guard said. “The middle there? Not so hot.”
Twenty-five good minutes combined with 15 that were shoddy at best is typically a recipe for failure on the road in the Big Ten Conference. But that formula was good enough for the No. 24 Badgers to get out of town with a 62-51 victory over Nebraska.
Davison finished with a team-high 13 points to help UW (15-6, 7-3 Big Ten) extend its winning streak to four games. While it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing by any means, the triumph helped Badgers improve to 5-3 in true road games this season and 7-4 overall away from home.
Wisconsin State Journal reporter Jim Polzin asked Badgers fans on Twitter what they thought of No. 24 Wisconsin's 62-51 win over the Nebraska …
UW built a 14-point lead in the first half only to watch it slip away entirely by the first media timeout of the second half. But after falling behind by three points, the Badgers answered with a 25-8 blitz to hand the reeling Cornhuskers (13-8, 3-8) their fourth consecutive defeat.
“When you do have a game where you’re only executing 25, 30 minutes, defense has to play a big part,” Davison said. “I think defensively, we were pretty tough tonight.”
He’s right. It also helped that UW got some timely contributions from a pair of unexpected sources.
Senior center Ethan Happ and sophomore forward Nate Reuvers added 10 points apiece for the Badgers. But when those two were on the bench in the second half and Nebraska was threatening to put the Badgers in a hole, it was senior forward Charlie Thomas who came to the rescue.
Nebraska used a 1-3-1 zone at times to limit the amount of quality touches that Happ had, and he finished with only eight shot attempts. What the Huskers couldn’t have counted on was Thomas and junior guard Brevin Pritzl combining for 13 points, including 10 after halftime.
“When you’ve got a dominant player like that, you try to make the rest of the guys beat you,” Nebraska junior forward Isaiah Roby said. “Their guys stepped in. Thomas made some big plays. Those are huge for your team. We need more of that.”
Roby finished with 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Huskers, who were playing their first game since senior forward Isaac Copeland went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 62-51, on Tuesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln…
Senior guard James Palmer Jr. added 14 points for Nebraska, but he was only 5 of 19 from the field. The Huskers’ other dangerous threat in the backcourt, senior point guard Glynn Watson, was 2 of 10 and finished with five points.
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While Nebraska grabbed 18 offensive rebounds, it only converted those opportunities into seven second-chance points. It was 10 of 25 at the rim and 10 of 31 overall in the paint.
“Wisconsin is an elite defensive team for a reason,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “With Bo Ryan and Greg Gard, they know how to walk into you without fouling and body you in a way that really makes it tough to score at the rim. The gliders struggle a little bit more. It doesn’t shock me that we weren’t great at the rim. … I really thought that more than anything, we had too many quick shots, quick 1-2 pass possessions.”
Nebraska used an 11-2 run to get back in the game before halftime and a 12-2 surge to take the lead in the second half.
But after sophomore guard Thomas Allen drained a 3-pointer to end a possession that included two offensive rebounds, giving the Huskers a 40-37 lead with 12:03 remaining, it was Thomas who quieted the crowd with a 3-pointer of his own from the right wing.
“At a time when Nebraska was gaining some momentum and the place was starting to fill up with noise a little bit, he was our answer,” UW coach Greg Gard said, “I thought he gave us a big boost at a time where it was much-needed.”
Two possessions earlier, Thomas had a putback basket. Over a stretch of about four minutes with Reuvers on the bench in foul trouble and Happ seated next to him because of fatigue, Thomas added another rebound and a blocked shot.
“A huge lift off the bench,” Davison said.
Not bad for a guy who never even left the bench in two of UW’s previous nine Big Ten games and logged a total of 28 minutes in the seven others.
“It’s always a never-know type of situation, so I just prepare myself mentally on the bench, just to always stay ready and always stay locked in no matter what because you never know when that time might come,” Thomas said. “My big thing was just coming in and bringing energy because at that moment we really needed it.”
Thomas’ 3-pointer started an 8-0 run that also included a 3-pointer from Pritzl and a dunk by senior forward Khalil Iverson off a nice feed from Happ.
Davison took over from there, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Badgers. He hit a 3-pointer, completed a three-point play, hit a tough turn-around jumper from 18 feet and scored on a drive that gave UW a 55-44 lead with 4:35 remaining.
Reuvers provided the dagger with a double-clutch 3-pointer late in the shot clock that gave the Badgers a 60-48 cushion with 2:19 left.
The win helped UW match its win total from last season before the calendar had even turned to February. When Davison was informed of that fact after the game, he rolled his eyes and smiled.
“I think it shows how far we’ve come, but at the same time we’re extremely focused on this year,” he said. “I think last year is in the past. We took our bumps, we took our bruises, and we still have that fire in our belly because of what happened last year. But we’re chasing a Big Ten championship now, that’s the only thing on our mind.”